Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Art of Effective Facilitation: Evolution of a Social Justice Educator's Professional Identity

Chapter 3

Okay, this week we read chapter three. It wasn't as interesting as I thought it would be, which was a disappointment. I did find some nuggets that will help me in developing myself as a social justice educator. One of the first things the author said was that she struggles with her identity as a social justice educator. And that made me feel so much better, because I struggle with my identity as a social justice educator too. I just feel like I don't know enough. There's so much to learn, and I don't nearly feel like I know what to be doing yet. It's much easier to teach one person at a time, I think, than to take on a whole group. There are so many pitfalls that way... And what happens when one person pisses another person off? Do we let them be angry at each other, and say mean things, do we try to control the discussion, what happens when we as facilitators get pissed off? I feel like a newborn when it comes to facilitation, and it makes me nervous.

Another thing I realized is that when people get emotional in this type of setting (during a workshop or meeting), it can sometimes be a beneficial thing. But it can also create an adversarial relationship between two people or two groups. This is especially difficult when someone gets angry. In most groups, this anger finds a target in someone of another group identity. For example, the black man may be angry with the white man who has just struggled to admit he has been oppressive before. Or the black woman may be angry with the black man who has just discovered that he thinks women are the weaker sex. (It's amazing the things you can realize during a training, workshop, or meeting. It was hard for me to realize that by not figting oppression where I found it, I was contributing to the status quo.) So in some ways, emotions (even anger) can be a good thing. In other ways, not so much. And the difference is in the people involved in the workshop. A statement in one workshop could be completely unchallenged, where with another group of participants, it could be like setting gasoline on fire.

One other thing I think is important. The author brought up a very interesting point. Every culture seems to think their standards for non verbal communication are universal. But they aren't. In the US, we make eye contact a lot with our bosses and coworkers. In Asian countries, this would be considered an insult. So when an American boss meets her Asian counterpart, she thinks he is untrustworthy because Asians do not make direct eye contact. And the Asian feels insulted that the American keeps trying to make eye contact. Neither is true, but the PERCEPTION is really all that matters. The Asian goes back to his colleagues and tells how rude the American was, while the American goes back to her colleagues and says the Asian was untrustworthy. In our communications across differences, it is best to talk about these types of things. If someone of another culture is speaking and says something verbally offensive or whose actions are offensive, it's best to ask if they know that what they said/asked/acted is offensive to you. It's hard to ask that type of question though. Or, if the person is drawing away and not wanting to talk to you any longer, maybe you can ask if you've offended them somehow. If we reach out instead of pulling back, we can learn about our neighbors in ways that empowers them - and us - to be better global citizens.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Reflections on an article: Reflections On Our Practice As Social Justice

Reflections On Our Practice As Social Justice: Educators: How Far We Have Come, How Far We Need To Go

This was a very interesting article. It followed the author's social justice education efforts down through the years (I see some parallels, but I have the benefit of MUCH more information) to the present, and then she looks at the things that may need to happen at other times to move forward. It was interesting to look at the evolution of social justice education from a single practitioner's standpoint, as it gave me some insights into ideas that I hold that need to change (the aforementioned inability to see my whiteness and privilege being one of them, of course). I liked seeing that the author made mistakes and did things wrong. It helps me to know that because I'm sure I'll make a few mistakes and I may do things wrong. Knowing up front that it probably WILL happen, and more than once, helps me to turn a mistake into a learning experience for both myself and my co-facilitator, as well as our participants for that day. I'm not, by any means, an expert on social justice education. And I have no problem with others learning from my mistakes. (After all, that's what they're for. To TEACH you something.)

I know that Kathy is one of Rebecca's heroes, and I was very interested in what she had to say. I actually learned a lot. But the key idea that I seized on from the article was the intersectionality of our identities and how this intersection drives us. I did quite a lot of thinking about this over the last couple of nights, and I'd like to share some of my ruminations with you. The first is that two people may share almost all of their identities. But that doesn't mean their identities affect them in the same way. It also doesn't mean that their identities INTERSECT in the same way. We all deal with this intersection differently. My mom and I are very alike in our identities, but VERY different in how we treat the world. We're both middle class white women who identify as cisgender, heterosexual, and Roman Catholic. We both spend a lot of time working. We enjoy a lot of the same leisure activities, and family is very important to both of us. But the way these identities intersect is totally different. She allows her judgments of people to color how she treats them, whereas I do not. I've often said I don't see color, creed, race, gender, etc... By this I mean I'm not making judgments on people because of these things. I accept people as they are, and am always looking for the good in them. (I can find good in most people, of some sort.) She looks for the bad. I accept that different people bring different things to the table. She thinks customs from other countries are weird or odd. So the fact that our identities are similar has NO EFFECT on how we interpret those identities and how we act them out.

And the intersectionality is sooooooooo fluid. In some situations, two of my identities interact in one way, but in another situation they may act in an opposite way. To me, this means that this intersectionality is dynamic and can change from situation to situation. When I started reading this article, it was in my head that my identities react to each other in a static way. (By static I mean unchanging.) But then I started reflecting and realized how easy it is to change the way this intersectionality works. One or two words different in what someone says to me, and I may have a completely different reaction to the sentence. My boss emphasized ambiguity once. He said look for ambiguity in tasks and refine them till there isn't any. He used a simple statement to prove his point: Tom didn't say Harry stole his wallet. But how many meanings can this statement have? I see eight. TOM didn't say Harry stole his wallet. (George did.) Tom DIDN'T say Harry stole his wallet. Tom didn't SAY Harry stole his wallet. (He implied it.) Tom didn't say HARRY stole his wallet. (He said George stole his wallet.) Tom didn't say Harry STOLE his wallet. (Tom lost it, and Harry found it.) Tom didn't say Harry stole HIS wallet. (He said Harry stole George's wallet.) Tom didn't say Harry stole his WALLET. (He said he stole his money clip.) So you can see how delicate words can be. We could react to the same sentence in very different ways. And a one or two word change can make a BIG difference. So we really need to look at how our identities are intersecting in the moment. Are they all involved, or are just a few involved? Are we acting in a triggered state? Do our identities intersect in certain ways around certain people or groups? Do we react to certain identities in certain ways? There are so many questions we can ask here, and if we ask them around different people, we're bound to get different answers to them.

It is my opinion that we all react to the things that happen in our lives based on which identities are intersecting at the time of the event. If our religious id is intersecting with our race id at the time of an event, we'll react differently to that event than we would if our gender id was interacting with our social class status id. And our reactions could be just a few words different, or they could be worlds apart. And I've come to the realization that my identities are what make me defensive or cautious or pedal to the metal. My identities drive me to respond in certain ways. When one is at the forefront, I respond in one way. If another is at the forefront, I respond in another way. I've come to realize my myriad identities need to be recognized as a big part of what drives me. My student identity drives me to get good grades. My employee identity drives me to do the best job I can at work. My white identity drives me to want to tell people what to do. My Roman Catholic identity drives my morals. These are just a few examples. But my identities are what drive me. If I'm in student mode at work, I have a hard time working. If I'm in work mode, I have a much easier time of it. And I've decided if I want to be a GOOD social justice educator, I need to be more conscious of exactly WHAT is driving me at any given moment: a tough task to be sure. I'm frequently oblivious to what is driving me, so becoming more aware is something I'll really have to work at. On the plus side, I do like to be challenged, so that'll make it a good thing for me to do. And so I'd like to challenge my readers (all four of them) to be more conscious of their identities and what is driving them when they interact with the world at large. I may try journaling, or maybe some brainstorming to see if I can get a better handle on this. Good luck to you in doing the same. (And feel free to leave a comment on this post for what you want to try and how you think it will work out for you.)

The Art of Effective Facilitation: From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces

Chapter 8

Chapter 8 hit home in some ways for me, because I have been wrestling with the idea of safe spaces in social justice education. I don't see how to both have an honest conversation where everyone can participate and also have a safe space. This is not to say that I don't think there should be ground rules. I think there should. However, I just don't see any way to create a space that is both safe and challenging for participants. These conversations about isms are SUPPOSED to be uncomfortable in some ways. And safe spaces don't allow for substantial discomfort. So how do the authors of this week's chapter bring these two ideas to bear on each other?

They talk about creating instead Brave Spaces, where participants can challenge each other (respectuflly) and really have those conversations about power and privilege. One thing the author pointed out that I don't think everyone remembers is that the discussions we have as a part of this come from our own dominant and subordinated identities. Each of us has both, and so each of us needs to think a bit more on what we're doing.Why are we resistent to having a certain conversation? Are we too tired to formulate our thoughts? Are we not sure what our opinion is? Are we resistent because the new idea introduced threatens our world view? If we want to jump into a conversation we can ask ourselves about that too. Why are we so eager to be heard? Are we defending our power and privilege? Are we eager to share with others so they can learn from us, or do we want to prove our point and preserve the status quo? These are all questions we need to ask when we decide when to participate and when not to participate.

I think, and this is just my opinion, that we NEED to challenge ourselves and our world view. If we don't, we're not learning much. This is something that is hard for me to do. I have this problem where I don't actually notice my whiteness and privilege. I KNOW I have it when I think about it, but it rarely crosses my mind. (One of my goals this year is to make myself more aware of my privilege and use it to further my social justice aims.) I need to challenge this view that I have that hard work pays off because it doesn't always, dependant on your group (dominant or subordinated). I'm not sure where this part of my world view comes from. It could come from the same place my privilege comes from. It may also come from my idealist nature. (That's the way the world SHOULD work, so it must work that way.) I'm having a hard time placing it. I want to say it's my idealism at work, but it could easily be my privilege since I don't tend to notice it.

Those are some of my takeaways from this chapter, and I've expanded on them quite a bit this week. I had several hours of tossing and turning last night (I had a bad asthma day yesterday, and so, since struggling to breathe wears me out, I slept most of the day. Then I went to bed at my normal time last night and woke up at three am wide awake. So I used the time to read some of the chapter and reflect on it while I tried to go back to sleep.), so I got quite a lot done in the middle of the night. (It's about the only time I HAVE for reflection.) Anyways, I'll be blogging again in a few minutes about an article Brice found and wanted us to share our thoughts on, so I'm gonna post this, then get to work on the next thing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Art of Effective Facilitation: Chapter 4

As I become more and more aware of the cycle of socialization around gender and gender norms around the world, I know that there is so much more to learn and explore. I see how we all have been conditioned to see male of female in such a way that when faced with someone who identifies outside of the binary;we can barley keep it together. From over friendly smiles to awkwardly asked questions. You know the questions I mean; the ones that you know come from the most caring soul but is used to see where exactly you fit. 

This chapter really hit home to me because of the intersection of my own identities. I am a Trans-person of Color who is also an American born African, a college student, a facilitator, a book worm, a Bengals fan and a great listener. These are all facets of me and I am usually about to express all of those identities in what ever fashion that I choose. Well, that is, all but one. The chapter focuses on TJ. As I read on, TJ and I were living parallel lives. From childhood through finding his own identity and realizing that no matter what he defined himself to be, others would still place him somewhere on the spectrum.

This chapter enlightened me to the way that cisgendered people really cared and really wanted to make an difference; even when they were unsure of uncomfortable. I have lived outside of the spectrum for most of my 28 years and only recently was able to say that I am in fact a trans-person aloud. This also made me think of my many years of RAPP and my wonderful facilitators. They used many of the ideas given in the book. One thing that I thought was kinda silly when I began my social justice journey years ago was the introduction of pronouns. Who would have thought that giving each person the space to identify themselves their own way made a huge difference? Even though some of them where "cis", they took the time out to include, educate and ponder  how such innate privileges are associated with living within the gender binary. The best thing is non-gendered bathrooms!! Being gender non-conforming can make the easiest task hard. If there are only bathrooms that take into consideration the sex that you were assigned at birth, where does the trans-person go? 

In retrospect, this chapter forced me out of the victimized stance and see thatpeople do care. There are ways to change the way we socialize children and ways to be easy and allow gender to be fluid and defined by each person as they see if fit for themselves.

Monday, September 29, 2014


The Art of Effective Facilitation

Chapter 4: Developing Gender Inclusive-Facilitation

This chapter aims at ensuring that a facilitation space makes everyone's identities feel addressed properly in discussion and education. This chapter specifically focuses on "transgender or gender variant" identities. Though these identities do play an important role with binary gender identities, there is an emphasis on making sure that non-binary gender issues are addressed.

The main concept that I learned from this chapter really just put a face on a familiar evil that I have been learning about for a while. Like the author, I too have been grouping transgender and gender variant issues under the umbrella of sexism or cissexism. This chapter used a new term that I don't think that I have ever encountered before which is genderism. Gendersism by definition is the belief or assumption that are only two and can only be two genders. I think that this is a vital distinction from sexism and cissexism because I believe that both of those terms continue to reinforce the belief that there are only two genders. Even for gender queer or non-gender conforming folks we tend to describe their characteristics based on the masculinity to femininity scale. This scale has been helpful for some and has been helpful for the education on people's gender expressions. But, I think in social justice education we neglect to acknowledge that this scale is limiting to the possibility of gender expression and gender identities. The exact thing that I am angered by, Lisa Landerman highlights as the "forced social labeling process." In order to continue making RAPP a more inclusive space I need to keep in mind and remind others to continue to be cognizant of how other's identify and to not necessarily use the skewed systems that have already been constructed to shape their perspectives.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Art of Effective Facilitation: Developing Gender Inclusive Facilitation

Chapter 4

Hi folks. I'm back again. As you can see, this week we read chapter 4, Developing Gender-Inclusive Facilitation. I picked this because it's an area where I'm shaky. When I grew up, you were male or female, and you lived with it. Period, end of statement. If someone had asked to be called ze and zim, they would have been laughed out of the building. So this is an area where my knowledge is shaky. I don't know the definitions to all the words used when having this conversation, and I know I need to learn more. It seemed like this chapter would be the perfect place to start.

It has been brought forcibly home to me over the last few years that people don't always feel like we think they "should." I hope you notice the quotes around the word should. How you feel is entirely for you to own. How I think you feel is something for me to find out. I can ask you questions about how you feel about something, or try to intuit it from your body language. But how you feel is not right nor wrong. It just is. How you ACT on those feelings can be right or wrong for you or for others, but the feelings themselves just are. If you and I feel differently, neither of us is right or wrong. We simply have a difference of opinion. We can talk about the situation, try to compromise our actions based on how we feel, but at the end of the day, those are our feelings and our opinions. And we're ENTITLED to them.

(That was the build up. This is the real what I learned from Chapter 4.) This leaves me in a strange place. I don't know enough about how a trans person feels, because I only know one trans person and that relationship is still fairly new. On the plus side, I do know a couple of things. The first thing is that it's hard to be a trans person in todays world. Some trans people have been traumatized by their treatment at the hands of society at large. People who are trans have been heckeled, pushed, shoved, punched, etc... There are even people who have been murdered for being Trans. So it's a really hard way to be. And how to tell the people that you love? And will they still love you? Will they still want to be your friend/family? What if they don't accept you? What will you do if they refuse to have further contact with you? These are all good questions to ask if you're a trans person. At the base of it, it comes down to doing the work (thinking, reflecting, imagining) and doing what's best for you. To all of those in the thinking stages, try to do the best thing for you. To all those in the initiating phases or coming out phases, good luck. And to all those who decide the best thing for them is to hide it, I wish you the best. It's a difficult decision to make, and I can't imagine having to make it. Some of the quotes in this chapter just made me want to cry. Especially, one student study participant said, "I knew that the office staff were looking at me. They all stopped what they were doing... They tried to be unobtrusive,but I could obviously tell that they had handled my records and they wanted to look at the freak..."1 I could just cry for that person. The transition and surgery are traumatic experiences, even if they take you where you want to go. And to have to go through that after all that work... It's just tough.

Another thing that I think is important is that there is NOTHING wrong with trans people. They are what they are. Male, female, undefined... Whatever they are, that's what they are. They can't help the way they feel. They weren't born wrong or crooked. They don't have a mental or physical illness (despite the DSM IV classifications of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and Transvestic Fetishism (TF)2). They weren't born wrong, they don't feel wrong, and they're not the ones that have the problem. WE'RE the ones that have the problem if we can't accept them for who they are. I think this point, that there's nothing wrong with trans people, is very much in the minority. So as facilitators, how do we get the point out that we ALL need to be inclusive? We can, of course, lead by example. And that's just to start. We can also talk honestly about the issues that trans people face in today's world. We can talk honestly about what we know, AND what we don't know. We can ask questions to find out what makes each trans person feel included and safe. These are all things we can do to help ourselves understand and empower those we facilitate who are trans. I feel I'm blessed to know my trans acquaintence. From what I've seen so far, he's an amazing person, and so strong to claim his true feelings. I'm sure it will be a rough road for him, but I'd like to learn as much as I can so I can support him on his journey.

1: The Art of Effective Facilitation page 72.
2: The Art of Effective Facilitation page 70.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Art of Effective Facilitation: Developing and Sustaining Effective Cofacilitation Across Identities

Chapter 6

This chapter had a lot of very important information about establishing a good foundation for cofacilitation. I found this chapter very helpful especially because this is Brice's and my first year working together so it is imperative that we lay a good foundation for the rest of the year. One thing the chapter pointed out is that practicing these things will not only improve the quality of the relationship between Brice and I and how we work together, but also as a model for participants to build relationships within the group.

Two things that I learned the most from this chapter are being able to develop my own social identity to become more confident in group dialogue and being able to work with and around triggers. It is important to develop my own sense and definition of my identity that includes each and every integral part of my being. With that being said, that doesn't mean that I have to stay silent in situations because I am afraid or doing or saying the wrong thing if I am not a person of that identity. This isn't speaking from the perspective of someone else's identity, but speaking up about something because I am trying to educate people on a topic from the perspective of all my identities working together.

I also learned that knowing your cofacilitators' triggers are very important to being able to to be aware of their disposition. Last week, Brice and I actually had a conversation about some of the things that may trigger us. I was happy to find out that some of them were the same, but some of them were different. From this, I feel like I am able to assist him better during dialogue and he is able to assist me. I also know how to not to trigger Brice so that we can continue to build our relationship.